I'm so happy to be here!

Scared Shitless

Most people don’t remember their own potty-training experience. I remember mine.

A traumatic encounter with a toilet is among my earliest recollections. I was two or three, and yes, I remember the incident in stunning, graphic clarity. No exaggeration—it scared me shitless.

A little boy’s right of passage, I was finally tall enough to stand at the potty. My li’l wee-wee was just high enough to … get pinched when the seat falls. Pinched? CRUNCHED! 

Mom was crushed when the shitter bit me. She blamed herself. She explained to me that the fancy throne cover she’d crocheted of baby-blue yarn caused the upright seat to lose its balance and … damn near guillotine my li’l pecker.

Just before impact, all was streaming along. I was ecstatic. I could hear the tinkle. That’s what Mom and Dad stressed—big boys who can stand up to use the potty get to “make tinkles,” referring to the sound pee makes as it hits the water. “Do you want to make tinkles?” Hell yes, I want to make tinkles! 

There I am, peeing like a big boy. Music to my ears! I’m making tinkles! I think I had a premonition. Not even a formed thought, more a sense, really … Am I really safe while my li’l wee is hanging all out there in the open? Just then, I felt a rush of wind. Down there.


Loud! Like a cannon went off! Do remember, at that very instant my ears were hyper-attentive to any and every sound—I’m loving the tinkle. This most violent and percussive strike was amplified by the porcelain and tile, and ricocheted around the bathroom. As did my scream.  

And the sting? HOLY SHIT! 

Mom was there in a flash, administering whatever comfort a loving mom can offer her son … whom she may have just neutered. 

My li’l wee was li’l no more. Swelled up like a balloon. When you’re that young, swelling freaks you the hell out! No concept of ‘this will go back to normal.’

Then Doug came along. He said, “Mom and Dad should have warned you; that toilet is a man-eater!” He went into great detail, describing dozens of times the toilet tried to bite him. But he mastered the art of standing back, far away … projecting his pee. “Aim high and make an arc,” he said, demonstrating an arc with his hands. 

Then he offered me this consolation: “At least you were standing up and peeing when it bit you. That pain is nothing compared to how bad it hurts if it bites you while you are sitting down to poop!” 

HOLY SHIT! This thing is dangerous! I vowed to never sit down on a toilet. 

Slowed my potty training. Shit my pants a lot, too. Eventually I matured through it; discovered the toilet is a friend, not a foe. 

Maybe not public restroom toilets. I’ve seen some scary looking public shitters.

I'm so happy to be here!

The Prophet Peter

“I’ll grow into my overbite. You won’t outgrow stupid.” 

It was something! I reckoned, once, that Peter could fit his entire fist into his overbite. I didn’t say it, of course. I felt bad for him. Kids say things, you know? Harsh things. 

And it got much worse the day Peter became a walking dark-age orthodontic experiment.  

He walked into Mrs. Eames’ second grade class wearing this medieval-torture looking device. No kidding, like something Jigsaw might have employed in Saw. Bands, belts and bolts, it was a stream-of-drool-inducing, lightening-strike-inviting, leather and metallic contraption, affixed to his skull. I do mean affixed; with screws or something. He tried to explain it to us. He was hard to understand. (Pinch your tongue with your fingers and try to talk—that’s sort of what he sounded like … but a lot wetter.) 

Something about the top part was pulling his face back, and the lower half was moving his chin forward. I’m no engineer, but that was definitely the direction things needed to go. 

He had to wear this thing 24/7 for the first few weeks. Then, good news! He’d only have to wear it during the day after that … or in other words, when he was around all the other kidswho say mean things. And they did. Greg, worst of all.

Greg took it as a challenge to come up with new cut-down monikers every day. They spread through our elementary school like a runny nose. Kids who didn’t even know his real name called Peter Tin-grin, Zipper-lips, Train-tracks, and Cheese-grater. During the holiday season—Christmas for us, but not for Peter because Santa didn’t like Jews—Tinsel Teeth was wildly popular.

What Peter lacked in jowl-alignment was more than compensated in his thick-skin and quick-wit. He’d laugh himself, and fire back disarming humor. And never with an ounce of malice; never a hint that any of this teasing nicked him—

Until the day the apparatus was gone. I don’t remember what Greg said, something like, ‘Doesn’t look like it worked’ … because, well, it didn’t. This jest cut, I could tell. Peter turned to face Greg, looked him in the eye, and said, “I’ll grow into my overbite. You won’t outgrow stupid.” 

Peter was a prophet. 

I'm so happy to be here!

We Had Your Grandpa’s Back

I was nineteen. Youngest member of our church softball team. Since I’m writing the story, I’ll just get this out of the way: I was a great ball player. (Do know that anyone who remembers that differently today is of a very advanced age, so …)

Our church team became a healing ministry. We were a battered congregation. Our pastor, our pitcher (and the man who would go on to become your Grandpa H), was going through a very difficult season in his life. A particularly pious little fellow named James had undertaken a campaign to have him removed from ministry. 

Your Grandma Shaw was an elder in the church at that time, doing exactly what you’d imagine Grandma Shaw doing as an elder—planning parties! 

I was in another part of the house one day when I heard her shout, “THAT LITTLE SHIT!” I won’t lie, I took a quick inventory—What the heck did I do?

I found at the kitchen table, letter in hand. Shaking. She was furious. 

Let me break her outburst down: 

THAT—this dude, James, just earned himself a definite article; a specific designation in Grandma’s eyes. Whatever he’d done, he’d really stepped in it.

LITTLE—James was vertically challenged. Significantly. With an acute case of Napoleon Complex

SHIT—Grandma didn’t often use words like shit. Your Grandpa Shaw, on the other hand, he was doubly gifted … in profanity and sagacity. He had a deep well of shit-infused smarts to pull from; things like, “You can paint a pile of shit any color you want, it’s still gonna stink!” See what I mean? Profanity and wisdom. When Grandma got really angry, she’d channel him.

THAT LITTLE SHIT (hereafter TLS) was Grandma’s take on James … and his letter.

The specifics are water under the bridge all these years later. But know that Grandma Shaw took this letter as her heart’s call to stand strongly with Grandpa H. As an elder in the church, she did just that. 

A side note: Recently, we came across letters, cards and notes from this period of time, including Grandma’s handwritten Bible study notes on how Jesus called us to love, and not judge others. There is also a handwritten card from Grandpa H. to Grandma Shaw, thanking her for her support. What a treasure trove!

Recognizing that many were hurting, she focused on healing—Phyllis’ way. Hoe-Downs, Oktoberfests, Variety Shows, Bazaars— Hell yes! You wanted to go to the church where your Grandma was an elder! 

Back to our softball team and its healing ministry—

TLS/James led an exodus that included a handful of families. Friday nights offered those who remained a little respite of family fun; men on the field, wives and kids in the stands, laughter and church family fun. 

Then came news that TLS was pitching for another church-league team … and we were scheduled to meet them on the field. Hehe.

We took the field; Grandpa H took the mound. Sarcasm and snarky comments streamed out of their dugout. I was way out in right field, and I could hear it. 

Dave was our second-baseman. An undercover drug enforcement agent, a day at the office for him meant cozying up to killers, infiltrating drug trafficking rings. Every day was life-or-death. He was bat-shit crazy. 

I knew something was gonna break loose. TLS was running his mouth. Dave was glaring into their dugout. Grandpa H, for his part, went on as if he wasn’t hearing a thing. Pitch. Pitch. Pitch. 

TLS stepped up to the plate. First pitch, he lined the ball through the hole and into left field. He rounded first, stumps-a-grinding, determined to stretch it into a double. Eyes on the ball in play, he never saw it coming— 

Dave threw a leg out and cleaned TLS’s feet right out from under him. What a sight! Ass-over-tea-kettle, your Grandpa Shaw would’ve said. A colossal belly flop, a mushroom cloud of dust, and a magnificent divot 10 feet short of second base—both dugouts emptied, like a real big-league rhubarb! 

TLS popped up … mouth first. His life flashed before my eyes. The umpire got in the middle of the scrum and called off the game, declaring it a forfeit … for both teams. 

The ritual after our games was to assemble at a local sports pub for … fellowship. Good Presbyterians, that meant platters of wings and buckets of beer! We’d just settled in when someone said TLS and his team pulled in. A voice of reason reasoned, “Let’s be calm. They are our brothers in Christ.” Dave hollered back as he headed for the door, “Yeah, I’m just gonna go lay hands on my brothers.”

I was nineteen, young and dumb. Let’s rumble! I mean … we had Dave.

We spilled out the door as TLS and his teammates were just getting out of their cars. Words were exchanged. Enough talk, Dave stepped off the curb, pulled off his t-shirt, and shouted something along the lines of ‘Who’s first?’ Car doors. Headlights. Taillights. GONE.

We went back to our beer. With our pastor, our pitcher … and your Grandpa.  

I'm so happy to be here!


I would go back to those days if I could. I’d love to have lived in those days as an adult, raising my family. Those were easier times, I believe. 

If I had to choose a word—stable. Stable parents. Stable home. Stable routines. Everyone was where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there, all the time. 

I was pretty well insulated as a kid. Certainly shit went on—that’s what shit does, it goes on. And in every family. But in that window of my life—and as childhood really ought to be—Mom and Dad, even my siblings, kept things in pretty idyllic terms in front of me. 

My dad had two heart-attacks when I was a kid. I vaguely remember he was sick. But I never heard or saw anything, from anyone, that suggested cause for concern. 

My sister got pregnant when she was sixteen. I was four. No doubt it was scandalous at the time, but I knew nothing of that. Life continued to be entirely consistent—sister got married, had a kid … she’d grown up. All is well. Stable.

All the families I knew—again, from my point of view—seemed as stable and consistent. Speaking in today’s language, they were all two-parent homes. Back in those days, two-parent homes were all we knew. The nuclear family. 

I did have a very limited purview. We weren’t allowed in Greg’s house; we were afraid to go to Peter’s house. 

Hardly ever saw Greg’s parents. Caught a glimpse of his mom every so often, sticking her head out to yell for him to come inside. We always had to stay outside, there. No kids were allowed in. Ever. You have to pee? Greg would point to a hidden pee-spot in a corner garden. If you had to do anything other than pee, well, you were shit out of luck. 

I didn’t care that we couldn’t go in the house. Greg’s backyard was the bomb! (And I didn’t mind pissing in the garden.) Landscaped with hills and rocks, mulch and sand, it was perfect for our make believe wars—all of us kids had admirable collections of army men, cowboys and Indians, and GI Joe action figures; horses, field artillery, jeeps and tanks. Greg’s backyard—you’d have to have seen it to fully understand.

Peter’s folks seemed nice enough. We kids were always a little nervous to go over there—his parents were real religious. That was the reason Peter couldn’t come out to play Fridays after school and Saturday. That was the reason Peter had to go to Jew School.

I should explain— 

Peter went to the Jewish Community Center once a week for religious classes … “sorta like a Sunday School” he explained to us. Just not on Sunday. Griffin coined it Jew School.

Peter was a good-natured, self-deprecating humor sort of kid. If you’d ever seen the kid’s halting overbite, you’d recognize what a merciful gift that disposition was for him to possess. Peter, himself, began referring to it that way; “I can’t come tomorrow. I’ve got Jew School.”

Mom tried to explain the difference between Peter’s Jewish beliefs, and those of our Christian family. Best I recall, Jesus was the only difference; Christians believe in Him, Jewish people don’t. “And that’s why Peter doesn’t celebrate Christmas,” she explained, “because it’s about Jesus’ birth.” 

Made sense. There he is, right there in the manger scene on our hearth each Christmas—baby Jesus, in the middle of it all. 

Not sure where Santa Claus fit into our Christmas story. But, I’m damn glad he did! Santa brought the goods in those days! Got a bike from him one year. A real leather football, another. There was the year he gave me a Captain and Tennille tape … sort of sucked on that one. (That gift led to my introduction to the word gay. Greg Griffin, of course. A story for another time.) 

Santa went to every kid’s house, as I understood it. The only reason Santa wouldn’t go to your house and leave presents was if you were a bad boy. Parents leverage Santa to get kids to behave. Works, too! I was one respectful and compliant child as Christmas approached. No Elf-on-a-Shelf bullshit. Santa knew! Like he was omniscient. 

Really twisted parents would hit you with, “If you don’t behave, I’ll call Santa right now!” Kids were like, Oh shit! Mom has Santa’s number?!?! (My parents never did that to me. Doug may have.) 

Peter was a really good kid. He did all that religious stuff and never complained. And obedient? He made sure he was home on time, every time. The kid never got grounded. He was exactly the kind of kid Santa visits. So what gives?

Greg explained that Santa didn’t go to Peter’s house because “Santa doesn’t like Jews.” 

I asked Mom. I didn’t have to tell her Greg said it. She knew. And I knew what was coming: “You are not to play with that boy!” That happened … a lot. 

Mom assured me, Santa loves everyone. But he only comes to the houses where people believe in him. Like a Santa gospel. Peter’s family’s faith—the Jewish faith—doesn’t believe in Santa. But Christians, like us … we do. And I should tell you, I wasn’t the least bit confused by this. Made all the sense in the world to me. But damn! I’d be missing Greg for a while. And his yard. Mostly his yard. 

I'm so happy to be here!

The Day I Was A Cub Scout

So clear. I can still see their tattered covers—one torn almost completely off the book, age-stained masking tape all that held it together, and the other badly water damaged, its pages swollen and discolored. But inside? 

Old Boy Scout Manuals my big brothers had used back in the day. They contained cool stuff: How to start a fire from scratch; How to tie cool knots; How to splint a broken bone; and my personal favorite—How to treat a poisonous snake bite.

I’d pretty much memorized them. 

Mom suggested that maybe I’d like to join the Boy Scouts like my brothers before me. Hell yeah! But at 7, I wasn’t old enough yet. I’d have to start out as a Cub Scout, and then when I was older I could become a full-fledged Boy Scout. “It’s similar,” she promised. “It’s all about honor, integrity and courage.” Whatever. But then she said Cub Scouts get to wear uniforms and can earn colorful badges for skills you learn for everyone to see—Sign me up, Mom!  

I brought my brothers’ books with me to our first Cub Scout meeting. Wanted all the kids to know where I was headed: If any of you guys ever get bit by a viper … I’ll save your ass!

Met our den mother, Mrs. Lane. I was confused. A den mother? A mom? I expected a dad. Scout stuff, like hiking, camping … something. Nobody is going to get bit by any snakes while a mom is looking after us!

Mrs. Lane had “an exciting project” for us. A chance to earn a badge. “We’re baking sugar cookies,” she announced. The skills we’d learn? Measuring flour, sugar, mixing in eggs and oil, greasing a cookie sheet. “Okay boys, everyone put on our aprons!” I was so grateful Greg Griffin wasn’t here to see this—he’d have called Cub Scouts sissy shit for sure. Girl scouts make cookies. They even call young girl scouts Brownies

When our cookies were just about to go in the oven, Mrs. Lane announced our next activity: “We will be making holiday cards.” She pointed to a table in the corner, a stack of old magazines, a pile of construction paper … and a box of safety scissors. Sissy scissors? We used those when we were in pre-school! Are you kidding me?

Youngest in a large family, I’d gotten to do a lot of dangerous things already in my 7 years of life. At home I used the sharp scissors. Knives. Garden sheers. Saws. Hell, my old man was teaching me to cut the grass and edge the sidewalks—using machines with spinning blades! You could lose a finger … or a limb, even. But I’d have your back—page 134, How to tourniquet a bleeding wound.   

Cleaning up the cookie mess, I licked a spatula. Mrs. Lane freaked. No baking badge for me! And then it happened; my brain thought it and my mouth declared it … out loud: “Cub Scouts is SISSY SHIT!” Mrs. Lane called my mom to come pick me up.

My career in the Cub Scouts ended the same day it began. Sure, I wanted to be a boy of honor and integrity and courage. But I also wanted to be a boy of adventure, tying knots, helping accident victims and … sucking poison out of snakebite wounds!